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Western Digital unveils ultra-slim hard disk drive

Western Digital on Monday unveiled an ultra-slim hard disk drive (HDD) built to slip comfortably into today's thinning herd of laptop PCs.

Produced by Western Digital's subsidiary WD, the 5mm-thin HDD will offer storage capacity up to 500GB and takes up about half the space of a traditional 2.5in mechanical notebook drive, according to the company.

"Mobile devices are becoming smaller, thinner, lighter, and more responsive. Working with our technology partners, WD has developed new 5 mm hard drives that enable high capacity storage along with excellent performance and superior economics to allow our customers to expand their thin offerings," WD vice president of client storage solutions Matt Rutledge said in a statement. The new drive is Western Digital's latest effort to build an HDD for thin and light laptops like Apple's MacBook Air and the host of new ultrabooks on the market. Earlier in the year, the company introduced a 7mm hard drive that slimmed down the profile of its standard laptop HDDs, which measure 9.5mm.

Most of the slimmest notebooks currently on the market employ solid state drives (SSDs) instead of mechanical ones. Those SSDs have thinner profiles than traditional laptop hard drives, but they also offer less storage capacity for equivalent prices at the moment.

Western Digital's new 5mm hard drive isn't actually a fully mechanical HDD. The company said it's a hybrid that combines the NAND flash used in SSDs with magnetic disk technology. But the new product won't be nearly as pricey as an SSD - it will cost one-tenth as much as "similar capacity SSDs," the company said.

Aside from price and slimness, another feature makers of ultra-thin laptops like about SSDs is that they boot up systems very quickly. Western Digital said the hybrid nature of its new hard drive means they've covered this base as well.

The 5mm HDD "pairs MLC NAND flash storage for fast SSD-like data throughput and instant-on responsiveness with magnetic disks for efficient, high-capacity storage," Western Digital said.

"Similar to the practice of multi-million dollar enterprise systems, WD's hybrid technology utilises the concept of tiered storage. Data accessed most frequently (often referred to as 'hot' data) is managed using speedy NAND flash to ensure fast response times, while data accessed less often ('cold' data) resides on the robust magnetic disks," the company added.

Another benefit of hybrid disk drive technology is built-in backup - the magnetic disk in Western Digital's hybrid HDD backs up all files stored on the solid-state portion of the drive, the company said.

Western Digital said it is currently sampling the new drives to OEM partners, including Acer and Asus.